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ICE battles graduate apathy

Just 7% of graduate ICE members responded to the merger consultation John McKenna investigates why.

WHEN THE results of the consultation on the proposed merger of the ICE and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers were published in July, the low number of responses deflected some attention from the concept itself.

While turnout overall was low at 11%, only 7% of graduate ICE members felt moved to give an opinion on the future of their institution (NCEI September).

Yet, overall, graduates and students make up 33% of the ICE's 78,000 strong global membership.

This apparent lack of enthusiasm among the next generation of Britain's engineers poses questions about whether the ICE is doing enough to reach out to graduates and students.

The question is of particular signifi cance as this consultation was one of the first times this sector of the membership has been given a direct say in the ICE's decision making process alongside corporate members.

NCE contacted a range of graduates across the UK to find out why the turnout was so low.

Of those who chose not to take part in the merger consultation, most said that they felt the proposal was irrelevant to them. They saw the Institution only as a vehicle for becoming chartered.

'Most people come out of university and it's enough for them to adapt to working life without trotting down to the ICE every week, ' says last year's NCE graduate of the year Lucy Penman.

She adds that the bare minimum ICE-related additional workload, such as writing quarterly reports, already ate into evenings and weekends.

The busy lives of graduates meant that there was little time to engage with other ICE activities.

'But this is not the ICE's problem, it's the individual's, ' she explains. However she adds: 'Until you're involved with the Institution, you're not going to care about any mergers, ' she says.

Head of the ICE Graduates & Students National Committee (GSNC) Phil Hardy-Bishop confi rmed that typically only around 5% of graduates took an active role within the Institution.

But he pointed out that it was his mission to mobilise graduates so that they did 'more than just pay their fee and turn up to couple of meetings every year.' Just as the ICE has begun a regionalisation programme in a bid to reach a wider audience, the GSNC, he explains, is also looking towards regional committees to increase graduate and student participation.

Hardy-Bishop is confident that focusing on the regions will create a ripple effect that will get more people involved.

'If I can make 100 graduates keen enough to help get other graduates to do things, then that's a large number of engineers I wouldn't have been able to reach on my own.'

But Association of London Graduates and Students (ALGS) chairman Alistair Hitchcock says graduates and students are far from apathetic and points out that they accounted for 21% of the 9,103 responses to the merger consultation.

ICE Council member Teresa Frost also sits on the GSNC and believes that the enthusiasm of graduates and students who are involved with the institution is 'boundless'.

Former ICE president Mark Whitby shares this view.

'I don't think graduates are apathetic. They are very engaged- when engaged.' Whitby feels that the ICE could have done more to achieve this engagement during the merger consultation. He adds: 'If you want to get young people to think about something you have to talk to them. It's no good just sending them a piece of paper.' To help regional committees engage with their members more effectively, the GSNC is relaunching its website in the autumn, providing best practice guides and ideas for organising events.

This, says Hardy-Bishop, is likely to be followed by a graduates and students newsletter, also aimed at improving communication between the ICE and its younger members.

He also hopes to increase the graduate representation on Council from two to three.

'This would highlight to graduates every year that they can have their say within the ICE.'

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